Corruption has blighted Kenyans' hopes again

By Meera Selva (THE GUARDIAN, 01/01/08):

These were meant to be Kenya's golden days. A booming economy, a mobile phone for every man, woman and child, a robust and lively press. It is a tragedy for the country and the whole of Africa that a few days after Kenya's elections, curfews are being imposed, gangs of young men are fighting on the streets, security police are storming through slums looking for agitators, and disfigured corpses are being discovered around the country. As ever, there is a sense that all this bloodshed could have been averted if only politicians had stepped down when their time has passed.

Kenya had high hopes when Mwai Kibaki moved into the presidential office in December 2002. Kenyan politics is still defined by tribe, and although Kibaki belonged to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, he had formed an alliance with Raila Odinga, who delivered the votes of the rival Luo and promised a new era of post-tribal politics in Kenya.

But corruption, the disease that has blighted Kenyan politics, crept back in as ministers began siphoning off public funds and awarding contracts to suspect companies, confident that their president was too weak or ineffectual to stop them. And with corruption came the desire to stay in power.

In 2005, the government held a referendum to strengthen the role of president. Enraged, Odinga left the cabinet and set up a rival coalition to campaign for a no vote, and won. In the euphoria of the victory, he set up a rival party, the Orange Democratic Movement, to compete in last week's elections.

He is now right to be furious about the way the election has been run. The irresponsibility and cynicism of Kenya's leaders over the last year is a betrayal of the people who voted them in five years ago with glad hearts.